How to look for records of... Trials in the Old Bailey and the Central Criminal Court

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you to find records of trials held at the Old Bailey since 1674, as well as records of the prisoners and convicts tried and held there. Reborn as the Central Criminal Court in 1834, the courthouse has nevertheless continued to be known popularly as the Old Bailey.

Most pre-1834 records are held in other archives, most significantly at the London Metropolitan Archives. However, The National Archives does hold some pre-1834 records.

For trials of crimes committed in London south of the Thames before 1834 you need to look at the records of assize courts for Surrey.

Records from the last 20 to 30 years are not held at The National Archives. For these records contact the Ministry of Justice. See their advice on Freedom of Information requests.

2. Counties and districts covered by the court’s jurisdiction

Located in the City of London, the court’s area of jurisdiction until 1834 covered crimes committed in:

  • City of London
  • Middlesex
  • but NOT any part of London south of the Thames

Its area of jurisdiction from 1834 until 1964 covered:

  • London
  • Middlesex
  • certain parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey
  • offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

From 1964 the area of jurisdiction was redefined as:

  • the Greater London area

Under the Central Criminal Court Act of 1856, the court could also hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or where, due to its frequent sessions, it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay in waiting for the next assizes. To this day, criminal cases from other parts of England and Wales are occasionally dealt with by the court.

When crown courts replaced assize courts in 1971 the title Central Criminal Court was retained for the crown court sitting in London.

3. Crimes tried by the court

Trials for people accused of felonies (serious crimes) and the more serious cases of misdemeanors (crimes less serious than felonies) were and still are held at the court. This included the following crimes:

  • theft
  • murder
  • rape
  • arson
  • certain types and instances of riot and assault
  • treason
  • perjury
  • forgery and counterfeiting
  • offences committed on the high seas or abroad, previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

4. Summaries of trials: proceedings and other accounts

The most detailed records you are likely to find for any trial are known as proceedings or sometimes sessions papers. They provide summaries of trials and what was said in court. They vary in length and detail, from reports of a few dozen words to detailed transcripts.

4.1 Published and printed proceedings, 1674-1913

The first published account of trials held at the Old Bailey dates from 1674 and from 1678 to 1913 accounts of trials were regularly published. These published proceedings were produced for public consumption. Published proceedings ceased in 1913 by which time they had become largely redundant in the face of newspaper reports of trials.

Proceedings usually contain, as a minimum, details of:

  • prosecutors
  • witnesses
  • defendants
  • charges
  • sentence and verdict

The original proceedings are held at a variety of libraries and not at The National Archives but they are available to search and view online at the Old Bailey Proceedings Online website.

The Chadwyck Healey microfiche collection of British Trials 1660-1900 (which also includes a few trials from 1901-1908) is available in The National Archives reading rooms and in some major libraries. These unofficial contemporary accounts of trials were originally published as pamphlets and sold to the general public. They are accompanied by separate name indexes.

The National Archives does hold some printed proceedings and you can search by date for Old Bailey sessions papers 1801-1904 in PCOM 1. You can also search the printed shorthand notes of proceedings 1834-1912 in CRIM 10, containing duplicates of the records in PCOM 1.

4.2 Accounts of trials in newspapers

Accounts of trials held at the Old Bailey after 1913 are most likely to survive only in newspaper reports. Often newspapers recorded proceedings in great detail. The National Archives does not hold newspapers – instead you should visit the British Library’s Newspaper Library.

4.3 Transcripts of proceedings, 1812-1963

You can search by name of defendant, type of crime or date for transcripts of proceedings 1846-1958 from a small selection of trials, in DPP 4, and transcripts of proceedings 1812-1963, again from a selection of trials, in TS 36. The cases are mainly serious crimes such as murder, robbery, treason and sedition.

4.4 Shorthand notes from trials, 1945-1986

Search by name of defendant or type of crime for shorthand notes from selected cases, in J 82. These are trials that were referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal, mostly after 1956 though there are a few files from 1945.

5. Records of prisoners, 1782-1971

The Old Bailey contains a network of cells used to hold prisoners awaiting trial and, for those convicted of the crimes they were tried for, after the trial too.

5.1 Lists of prisoners awaiting trial and criminal registers, 1782-1892

The National Archives holds:

  • lists of prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Bailey 1815-1849 in HO 16 – browse by reference in our catalogue
  • calendars and lists of prisoners awaiting trial at Newgate Gaol 1782-1853 in HO 77 – browse by reference in our catalogue
  • criminal registers 1791-1892, listing those charged with indictable offences at Middlesex Sessions, giving verdict and sentence – search by name at Ancestry.co.uk (£) (the original records are in HO 26 and HO 27).

5.2 Details of prisoners in after-trial calendars, 1855-1971

Records of convicted criminals held prisoner at the court exist in the form of after-trial calendars.

There are no after-trial calendars after 1971. Something similar called memorandums of convictions have been kept since 1971 but they are supposed to be destroyed after 20 years and therefore do not get transferred to The National Archives.

After-trial calendars of prisoners include some or all of the following details:

  • name and age of prisoner
  • previous convictions
  • date of trial
  • charges on the indictment against them
  • verdict and sentence
  • details of magistrates and jury

Browse through the record series of after-trial calendars by clicking on the links below to find details of prisoners tried within the following year ranges:

  • 1855-1949 in CRIM 9 (some records closed for 75-100 years)
  • 1868-1971 in HO 140  (some records closed for 75-100 years). Records for London and Middlesex cover Quarter Sessions as well as the Central Criminal Court cases, and for 1868-1897 have separate sections for the City, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Surrey and Admiralty jurisdictions. After 1898 they have separate sections for London (North of the Thames), London (South of the Thames) and Middlesex.

6. Witness statements: depositions, 1839-1987

Depositions are statements given in court as evidence in a trial.

Use our catalogue to search deposition records by name of defendant and date. Either restrict your search to the following record series or browse by reference by clicking on the links:

  • CRIM 1 for 1839-1971
  • J 267 for 1972-1987 (note that the dates in the series description for J 267 stretch up until 2007 – in fact, the most recent case currently held in this series dates from 1987 and the 2007 end-date reflects the most recent date for records of a case that was heard in 1986)
  • CRIM 2 for 1923-1966 – there are alphabetical indexes of depositions in cases sent up from coroners and police courts

They cover all trials for:

  • murder
  • sedition
  • treason
  • riot and political conspiracy trials
  • those held to be of historical interest

A 2% random sample was kept for other trials. Some depositions include plans and photographs. Some are closed for 75-100 years.

7. Charges: indictments since 1833

Indictments are the formal statements of the charge against the accused.

You can search by surname of the accused by consulting the alphabetically arranged calendars and indexes of indictments. You will need to know the approximate date of the trial to find the right calendar or index.

Browse through the appropriate record series by year range for the following periods:

  • 1833-1971 in CRIM 5 (for a reference to CRIM 4 – see below)
  • 1972-1980 in J 336 (for a reference to J 268 – see below)

Though primarily an index, CRIM 5 does also provide the following information:

  • charge
  • date of conviction and sentence
  • results of any appeal

Use the reference obtained through the calendars and indexes listed above to access indictments within the following periods:

  • 1834-1971 in CRIM 4 (these records can also be browsed by date)
  • 1972-1974 in J 268
  • 1974-present – apply for access to court records through HM Courts and Tribunals service. See the Ministry of Justice website

For more recent records, not held at The National Archives, contact the Ministry of Justice. See their advice on Freedom of Information requests.

8. Court books, 1834-1949

Court books contain the following information:

  • names of the accused and, in many cases, the victim
  • plea, verdict and sentence
  • jurors’ names

Browse through the court books in CRIM 6 (1834-1949). You will need to know the approximate year in which the trial took place as these books are arranged in ranges of years.

Court books from 1950 to 1971 have not survived and beyond 1971 they were not produced.

9. Appeals and criminal petitions, 1848-1990

Appeals, against verdict or sentence, for the following period can be found in the record series listed:

  • 1908-1990 in J 81 (searchable by date only)
  • 1848-1893 in CRIM 11 (searchable by name in our catalogue)
  • 1848-1908 in CRIM 12 (searchable by name in our catalogue)

See also our research guide on Appeal cases after 1875.

10. Records of London and Middlesex Quarter Sessions

The London Metropolitan Archives holds various Quarter Sessions records for London and Middlesex, including the Sessions of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and Middlesex held at the Old Bailey until 1834 as well as City of London Sessions, Middlesex Sessions, Westminster Sessions and the County of London Sessions.

Records from a number of archives have been brought together and digitised on the London Lives website including Quarter Sessions records for City of London, Middlesex and Westminster.

Though there are no records from quarter sessions courts at The National Archives, our library contains the following printed and published calendars for records held at the London Metropolitan Archives:

11. Further reading

The following publications are available at The National Archives library at Kew:

Clive Emsley, The Newgate Calendar (Wordsworth, 1997)

W Eden Hooper, History of Newgate and the Old Bailey (Underwood Press, 1935)

A Knapp and W Baldwin The Newgate Calendar (4 vols) (J Robins and Co, 1824-1828), describing ‘notorious’ cases 1700-1825